Art Beat: Carbon Criminals, Climate Crimes

May 21, 2020

A 2010 file photo of a firefighting aircraft over Colorado slowing the spread of a wildfire caused by climate change
Credit Ed Andrieski / AP Photo

Western Michigan University sociologist Ron Kramer no longer uses the term “climate change.” He calls it the "climate crisis."


The former director of Western's Criminal Justice Program says the crisis is caused by criminal actions. And in his new book, Carbon Criminals, Climate Crimes (Rutgers University Press, 2020), Kramer is ready to take the guilty to task.

“There’s simply no doubt that the climate crisis is human-caused,” Kramer says. “That’s clearly established by the science. It’s the activities that humans engage in, particularly the burning of fossil fuels and to some extent the efforts causing deforestation, that lead to the release of greenhouse gasses up into the atmosphere. They trap the outgoing heat and then re-admit it, and that causes the Earth to warm. And as the earth warms, various changes in climate begin to occur, climate disruptions.”

Credit Rutgers University Press

Kramer’s book describes and explains what corporations in the fossil fuel industry, the U.S. government, and the international political community did to cause global warming.

Kramer analyzes four specific "state-corporate climate crimes": the continued extraction of fossil fuels and rising carbon emissions; a political failure to mitigation the effects of these emissions; socially organized climate change denial; and what Kramer calls "climate crimes of empire," which include militaristic forms of adapting to climate disruption.

The final chapter reviews policies that Kramer believes could mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to a warming world, and achieve climate justice.

Kramer says there are many ways individuals can get involved in fighting the climate crisis.

“On campus, we have the WMU working group on climate change that’s been in existence since 2012, and so we’ve got an interdisciplinary group on campus that is working hard on the issue. Our working group is part of a broader Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition that formed last summer and has been very active…If people want to work on this issue, there are a lot of ways they can get plugged in.”

Ron Kramer is also the co-author of State-Corporate Crime: Wrongdoing at the Intersection of Business and Government (Rutgers University Press).

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